When a recently retired developer from Santa Fe decided to visit Aspen for a monthlong ski trip, he never imagined that he would soon be calling it home. “Aspen is known for its glitz,” he says, “but I was surprised to find it has a real sense of community.” By the time one month had stretched into three, he decided to look for permanent accommodations. Ideally, he wanted to find something right off the ski runs with a modern, clean and elegant sensibility, but he quickly revised his thinking. “To find a cool place in a great ski-in ski-out location proved to be a challenge,” he explains, “but if you find a house in a great location, you can transform it into something special.”
He met his location requirement by purchasing a three-story town house in a ski-lodge complex at the base of Aspen Mountain. Though geographically desirable, the residence was built in the mid-1970s and sported a slew of dated design elements from the era. Fortunately, the entire complex’s exterior had been updated a few years earlier, but the inside was still a mish-mash of passé kitsch and overbearing materials. Tapping into his developer past, the owner put together a team that included interior designers Richard and Barbara Mullen, architect Kim Raymond and builder Steve Smith with the goal of revamping the interior from top to bottom.
“There were gigantic rough-hewn fir beams on the ceilings, coarse planks on a lot of the walls and massive hunks of stone cladding the entire three-story stairwell,” says Barbara. These features were “heavy and totally overwhelmed the space—especially the stairwell, which looked like a cave,” notes her husband, Richard.
Despite these shortcomings, “the exterior of the town house was very progressive for its era, and the interiors had great potential,” says Raymond, who devised a way to remove the gigantic timber beams and replace them with steel on the lower two floors. “The new assembly cut about a foot off each beam, making the ceiling flat and letting more light into those levels,” she explains. On the top floor, the architect left the heavy wood beams in place but wrapped them in Sheetrock so they could subtly define the kitchen, living and dining spaces in lieu of light-blocking walls. A frosted glass wall between the master bedroom and bathroom achieve a similar flow of light in the second-floor master suite.
The addition of a floating steel-and-glass staircase with white oak treads made another dramatic difference in the space. The owner “wanted it to look like it was floating off the wall, so we figured out a way to do it,” says Smith. “It’s supported completely by the perimeter walls and required a substantial amount of on-site engineering.” The resulting structure “has a significantly smaller footprint than its rock-lined predecessor, as well as a skylight overhead,” says Raymond. “So light floods down to the lower levels.”
Given the newly open feel of the spaces, the owner “wanted all the rooms to be one expression since everything would be seen together,” says Richard. “So we came up with an overall finish palette.” Warm oak floors complement streamlined walnut cabinetry in the kitchen and the entry is marked with limestone. Barbara played off that palette in choosing the furnishings. “I looked for pieces that had clean lines and really nice wood tones,” says the designer, who chose sleek pieces from Holly Hunt and Donghia, and natural fabrics, including soft wools and chenilles. “The fabrics all have great textures, which is how I think you achieve that warm Aspen feel.”
The same muted palette flows throughout the top floor and picks up downstairs, where Barbara used matching gray wool for draperies in the master suite and accent pillows in the study. “Everything works together in the house,” she says of a sense of cohesion that now permeates the entire residence. “The transformation was remarkable,” adds Richard. “The decisions we all made took it from feeling like a small, dark, rabbit warren of space to this clean, modern and airy town house. It’s a complete 180 from what he originally purchased.”